From Massage Therapist to Legal Transcriptionist: Katherine’s Story

success interviews Oct 18, 2018

Sometimes even the best-laid plans go awry.

When this happens, you can choose to wallow in self-pity, or you can go to plan B and turn the situation around.

As the old saying goes: when one door closes, another opens!

Katherine had to quickly switch to her backup plan when an unexpected medical issue prevented her from continuing her massage therapy business. She took it in her stride and started her new career as a legal transcriptionist.

Read on to hear her full story!

Q: Hey there, Katherine! Can you tell us a little about your background? What did your life look like before TA?

I had a 15-year technical writing career and then spent 7 1/2 years as a licensed massage therapist. There was a bit of an overlap because I worked full-time when I went to massage school and also did a few tech writing contracting jobs while I was getting my massage business off the ground. The fatigue of working a mundane corporate job was the impetus for changing careers to massage therapy. But a shoulder problem followed by an unexpected medical issue forced me out of that career sooner than anticipated. So my long-term backup plan became the “right now” plan sooner than anticipated.

Q: Sometimes things don’t turn out as we planned. Way to roll with the punches! When did you start doing transcription, and what made you decide to learn it?

In the summer of 2017, I took the Proofread Anywhere Transcript Proofreading course. I had a strong background in technical writing but wanted to make the leap into legal transcription. I knew the PA course would be the more practical first step before doing the Transcribe Anywhere course. Then I started the TA course in the autumn of 2017, which was the first time I did any actual transcription.

Q: Possessing good grammar and punctuation skills is essential for a transcriptionist. What was the most challenging part of getting started?

Balancing current needs while allocating time and energy to a new pursuit is always the hardest part of getting started. When I did the course, I was running a thriving massage therapy practice, nursing a shoulder problem, and studying/practicing in my downtime. But it also wasn’t my first time working full-time while studying, so I knew a bit about what to expect. It’s time and energy management, and giving myself permission to take a break when needed.

Q: Self-care is so important if you want to be successful. What have been the most valuable things you learned during the course?

Learning how to really listen is everything for transcription. It’s amazing to me how humans can deliver information through speech, including multiple trains of thought all at once, and that the human brain can receive that information, parse out the irrelevant filler sounds and words, and digest the ideas. When you transcribe, you need to capture EVERYTHING as well as understand what is being said so that you can punctuate it properly and make it understandable. Human speech is incredibly complex. Fortunately, the course provides a wide variety of real-world practice exercises at varying levels of difficulty, which is really valuable.

Q: How long did it take you to find your first client? How many clients do you have now?

I found my first client immediately after finishing the course. It was a bit of a fluke, but I was practicing my speed and accuracy by transcribing some podcasts I listened to. I happened to have a pre-existing relationship with the team of one of those podcasts and sent them the files as a courtesy. They offered me a job! Podcasts are considered general transcription, which isn’t what I specialize in, but it’s great fun and gives me a nice break from legal work each week. I have two podcast clients and do legal transcription and proofreading through an agency (and have as much work as I want) the rest of the time.

Q: Way to turn a learning opportunity into a paying client! How long did it take you to recoup the cost of the course?

I had money saved already. It was earmarked for my massage therapy business, but I reallocated it for my PA and TA coursework since I knew I would be transitioning out of my massage practice. I didn’t realize just HOW SOON, so I am glad I had planned ahead. I would say I made the money back from the TA course in 2–3 months.

Q: What advice would you give anyone thinking about becoming a transcriptionist? Is it worth the money for training?

Transcription is perfect for self-starters who want to be challenged and engaged by their work and want the flexibility to work from home and/or run their own business. I think a big mistake people make with a course like this is thinking it’s going to be easy. Thinking that the course itself will be easy or that it’s easy to run a home-based business with flexible hours or that after launching a website, they’ll immediately start making tons of money. NONE of that is true!

But what IS true is that if you commit to developing good grammar skills (or brushing up on the skills you already have, like I had to do), building the technical skills required to be a proficient transcriptionist (which are provided in the course), and want the flexibility to work from home and make your own schedule, it’s worth it!

Q: What do you think it takes to be a GOOD transcriptionist? How about a GREAT one?

The differences between a good transcriptionist and a great one are attention to detail and a great ear. I proofread new transcribers (along with doing transcription myself) and I see this every day. Attention to detail means researching the spelling of every name, place, etc., taking time to be mindful about correct punctuation (no, you don’t put a comma just because someone pauses), meeting deadlines, and being open to feedback. A great ear means being proficient with accents and being able to capture every utterance (and know how to punctuate it).

A good transcriptionist hits their deadlines, delivers complete files, and makes a decent show of punctuation skills. A great transcriptionist captures every word, does thorough research, and has about 98% accuracy with punctuation (resulting in few corrections by the proofreader). People with very little experience can be GREAT transcribers, and people with tons of experience can be so-so. It’s really about how much effort you are willing to put into the job.

Q: I couldn’t agree more! A great transcriptionist goes above and beyond for their clients. What’s your favorite thing about being a legal transcriptionist? What about your least favorite?

Transcription is engaging! If you are very, very lucky and/or choose your clients well, the subject matter alone can be interesting. I have two general transcription clients and learn a LOT by transcribing their podcasts. I mean, I basically get paid to learn cool stuff! And I also do legal transcription, which I really enjoy. Legal proceedings can be both entertaining and infuriating. And transcripts require a level of detail in their formatting that keeps me challenged and focused. It’s never the same day twice, and I’m always learning something new.

In addition, I use a wide variety of skills throughout the day, which keeps things fresh. There are the technical skills required for transcription (speed and accuracy in typing as well as a thorough working knowledge of grammar), research skills (both for grammar as well as topical knowledge like spelling medications and pathologies correctly), interpersonal skills required to communicate with clients, and marketing skills used in building and running my business. It’s not a boring job!

My least favorite thing is the amount of time I spend sitting. I have a sit/stand desk, but using the foot pedal while standing isn’t any better for my posture and alignment than sitting is. When I have a lot of deliverables in a day, it can be really draining to be at the computer all day. The onus is on me to make sure I take regular breaks throughout the day.

Q: What does a typical day look like for you as a legal transcriptionist? Anything else you’d like to share?

There really isn’t anything typical about my days. I have two podcast clients and work for an agency doing legal transcription and proofreading. What my day looks like depends on how many jobs I have that are due that day. I also proofread new transcribers for the agency, which takes more time but is really rewarding. So it’s really about blocking out my time so I can focus on whatever is most important. It’s more about triaging the highest priority items for the day than it is about proofreading in the morning and transcribing in the afternoon.

One thing worth noting: You can take this job anywhere. It’s not tied to a city or a region of the country. You can work with clients in different time zones or even different countries!  Or you can work only nights and weekends or only three mornings per week. It's very flexible, which is wonderful. But people often misinterpret that as being able to work five minutes here or there and make money or being able to work in the car during the kid’s soccer practice or not having to meet deadlines. Transcription requires quiet. It requires large chunks of uninterrupted time. A 15-minute audio file can take a GREAT transcriptionist 60 minutes to transcribe, proofread, finalize, and deliver. And all jobs will have a deliverable date (measured in hours or days, not weeks). So while the job IS most certainly flexible, I think it’s important to realize what exactly that means.

Our Take

That’s a great tip, Katherine! Transcription is flexible, but it still requires focus and a dedication to providing top-quality results. I love Katherine’s can-do attitude. She rolled with the punches when a medical issue prevented her from continuing her massage therapy business. Instead of wallowing, she moved up the timeline of her backup plan. Now she enjoys the variety and flexibility of her transcription business.

Your Turn

Did a door just slam in your face? Not to worry; there are other opportunities out there. Check out my free mini-course to see if becoming a legal transcriptionist is the right path for you!

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